When 4,000 Jobs Disappear and Nobody Cares

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A funny thing happens every January or February.  During most of the year, journalists and politicians trumpet relatively small gains in employment or drops in the unemployment rate.  The governor repeatedly proclaims, for example, that Rhode Island’s unemployment rate dropped faster over the year than any other state.

But then, come the beginning of the year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revises its numbers, generally smoothing things out and reducing Rhode Island’s numbers. (Some states go up, but Rhode Island’s never do, at least in recent years.)  As a consequence, this time around 4,278 Rhode Islanders who were supposedly working simply disappeared, dropping employment by nearly one percentage point.  The number of Rhode Islanders supposedly looking for work dropped by 2,626, and the unemployment rate slipped back three-tenths of a percentage point, to 5.4%, not the proclaimed 5.1%.

The following charts update those previously reported in this space.  The best way to compare the effects of the revision would be to open the corresponding images in separate browser windows and flip back and forth between them.  (Pressing the Alt key and the Tab key at the same time will accomplish that in Windows.)

Apart from the 4,278 drop in employment at the end of the line, there are two notable differences in the employment story, now. The first is that the labor force never really began to recover, but pretty much continued its gradual decline.  The second is that employment didn’t leap up as much and then spend four months in correction, but rather, it just continued its gradual increase and then hit a wall beginning around June.

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Massachusetts and Connecticut also experienced an erasure of the surges originally reported in their data.  On the other hand, those states didn’t have Rhode Island’s big dip in late 2014, which the BLS has now ironed out of its numbers, so their stories didn’t change as much, just moderating.

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In the distance-from-peak chart, the other states at the back of the U.S. pack generally benefited or weren’t hurt as much by the revision.  While Rhode Island slipped from 96.2% of its pre-recession employment peak to 95.4%, Vermont and New Mexico improved, while Kentucky, Michigan, and Mississippi didn’t slip as much as the Ocean State.  Consequently, whereas Rhode Island had reached sixth from the bottom, by this measure, it has now just barely beaten out Michigan to stay out of the bottom 3.

Long-time readers will recall that Rhode Island and Michigan battled for the title of worst of the outliers for years, and with Michigan having implemented right-to-work legislation, the two states are a comparison to watch on a national scale.

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The BLS numbers for jobs based in Rhode Island (the lighter area in the chart below) were not revised, so the only change here is the relative difference.  Note that the stagnation in employment (the darker area) now better matches the overall stagnation in jobs.  Most of all, though, the comparison shows that there has not been a surge of Rhode Islanders employed in some way unrelated to jobs within the state — mostly self-employment and jobs outside of the state.

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  • Northern Exposure

    I think some people are leaving! Or should I say, MORE people are leaving.

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